My brother and I both dug the Armored Core series of games. We played the demo of the first one, got sucked into the second and third ones before I moved away from console gaming. But I still have both Armored Core 2 and Armored Core 2: Another Age for my PS2.
Defining what Armored Core is about is difficult. The game developers took the time to really develop a back story to the series, often told through the accepted mercenary contracts and narration: Humanity threw itself into a nuclear war, the results of which forced us underground for decades. Whether it was a lack of faith or simply loss of political power, governments lost hold on our lives. Corporations stepped up to fill the gap, providing necessities and employment to people and making life post-Armageddon possible.
Of course, the competition between corporations didn’t just go away. And without a higher authority, the various conglomerates took to fighting over resources whenever and where ever business negotiations failed. These struggles usually occurred “invisibly”, rarely acknowledged by the population except when civilian casualties occurred.
These minor skirmishes occur between security and mercenary forces. Mass produced weapons called Muscle Tracers (MTs) are frequently employed. But every once in a while, a mercenary gains the financial resources to purchase a customizable next-generation MT, a bigger and better machine called an Armored Core (AC). These mercenaries, called Ravens, work through the Raven’s Nest, a mercenary contracting agency who holds a near monopoly over the AC pilot trade.
This long introduction sets the stage for the game series, of which the unnamed player (you) earns his or her first AC and begins accepting work among the various corporations or rebel factions. What has always thrilled me about the series is that it makes a political statement through the near total removal of politics. Again and again the series returns to this theme, but in each game the developers add a certain twist to it. In the second game, humanity discovers alien technology on Mars that is powerful enough to change the status quo. The third reboots the series, putting humanity back on Earth and underground, where the city of Layered is maintained by a centralized A.I.
Although the whole “corporations take over the world” speculative sci-fi story has been explored many times, few do it better than From Software’s Armored Core series. Probably because they let the player explore the world on the battlefield. The story is minimal, yet rich with possibilities. Yet the game itself never breaches the fourth wall for the player: Everything the player does is something an actual Raven would do, from checking your emails, buying components for your machine, and accepting contracts. Everything you do as a player is built into the world itself, hence the game fully immerses you in its lore.
There are many reasons the series has maintained a faithful cult following that has helped spawn about a dozen titles. The music for one is a kind of unusual techno mix that proves difficult to forget. And the game play is a mix of two things; fast mecha combat and designing your own machine. In that way, the game balances itself between a creative and a destructive aspect. Creatively, one has to design an AC that best fits their play style. Destructively, they have to master using the machine in the field. A fan on the boards once explained that during the short lived online mode, an incredibly competitive community flourished. Considering the thought that goes into designed an AC and then testing it against the ferocity of other opponents, I have no doubt of his words.
This video showcases scenes from the various Armored Core games, but the amazing music is not from the series but rather from an artist named Celldweller. To listen to some of Armored Core‘s outstanding music, check out these Youtube samples of At That Time on the AC3 soundtrack, Thinker from AC4 and one of my favorites, Precious Park from Armored Core: For Answers.
I bring all this up for two reasons. The first is that Armored Core V is coming out next year, and gives me incentive to go and get either a PS3 or XBox 360 for that reason. The second reason is because I love the Armored Core series and day dream about sometime writing either a novel or perhaps even screenplay for it. And I don’t mean in a fan fictional way, but professionally.